A Rampart to the Mind

Written by Annie & Lyn
Cover by Patt
Artwork by Lisa, Romanse, Nicci, Patt & Peter

The weekend had gone entirely too quickly, Blair decided. After spending most of Saturday morning in bed, Jim and Blair had headed over to the hospital to look in on Megan, and Blair had been relieved to see that the Aussie cop was recovering nicely with plenty of TLC from Rafe.

Sunday, Jim suggested they head to the pier. Blair had initially balked at the idea, remembering the day they'd walked there, when the press had discovered Jim's secret and Jim had turned all his anger, fear and mistrust on Blair. Jim had insisted on lunch at a new restaurant nearby and Blair had finally capitulated. It had been a good day. The sun was shining and, though they hadn't walked arm in arm, they'd stayed close to each other, Blair occasionally reaching out to give Jim's hand a squeeze. Instead of pulling back, Jim had simply smiled at him. Finally Blair felt able to put those particular demons behind him and bask in the glow of their new future.

They'd spent a leisurely hour in bed, saying goodbye, and then Blair had to leave and return to Seattle. He felt so exhausted, he was afraid he'd fall asleep on the way back, but the memories of the past weekend were enough to keep him awake.

Monday morning already. The previous week seemed to have fled as quickly as the weekend. Blair stared at his reflection in the mirror and made his decision. Reaching for a leather hair tie, he pulled his hair back into a neat ponytail and tied it securely. It was no big deal, anyway. The idea of cutting his hair had crossed his mind on more than one occasion as it was. Sometimes the effort it took to wash and dry it, then comb it out, was more than he could be bothered with. He reached for the earrings adorning his left ear then stopped. Stuff 'em. He wasn't going to become a sheep, and chances were Collins would find something derogatory to say to him even if his ears were bare.

He turned away from the mirror and strode over to the bed to pick up his backpack. He eyed the breakfast tray on the table then reached out and grabbed a banana. His nerves were making his stomach queasy and he didn't think he could handle anything heavier this morning. "See, Jim, I'm eea-ting," he said in a singsong voice.

Picking up his bag, he headed for the door, peeling the banana on the way.

He was right on the money where Dean was concerned. Blair had just gotten settled when Collins swaggered by. He glared down at Blair and sneered, "You could get a crewcut, Sandburg, and you still wouldn't be a real cop."

"Dean!" Perry was just behind his partner and he reached out now, grasping the other detective's arm, forcing Collins to turn and face him. "Knock it off, Dean. I've had about as much as I can take of this shit, and so has everybody else." He glanced at Blair. "Sorry, Blair. My partner here needs to learn some manners."

Blair waved the apology away. "It's fine, man." He glared up at Collins. "Not your fault."

Collins angrily pulled his arm from Perry's grasp. "You don't like the way I act, find another partner," he hissed. "I never asked for a new partner anyway."

"Well, you're stuck with me and do I need to remind you that I have seniority, Detective?"

"Fuck you," Dean spat. Turning away, he strode off, taking a seat at the far end of the table.

"All right. Listen up, people," Agent Russell said. "So far, we've been studying dry texts that I'm sure you're all a little bored with. Over the next two weeks, we'll be putting some of those texts into practice and maybe doing some street work with the PD here. Before you leave for the day, I'm going to give you some homework." He waved away the expected groans.

"In case you hadn't noticed, sir," Perry piped up, "we're not in high school anymore."

Russell grinned. "Duly noted, Detective," he replied with an easy smile, "but this is school all the same. You don't hand up the work and you'll score an F. Okay," Russell rose and walked alongside the table, handing an envelope to each person. "Inside each of these envelopes is a fellow student's name. The envelopes are not to be opened until you get home or back to your hotel room, and there is to be no swapping envelopes. Your assignment is to study the person whose name you've been given over the next two weeks and then write a profile on them." He waited a beat as there was a murmur of conversation, then spoke up again. "Questions?"

Blair put up his hand. "How thorough a profile does it have to be?" he asked. "I mean, we don't know much about each other's backgrounds, except those who've come with their partners. Two weeks doesn't seem long enough to -"

"You've been here a week already, Detective," Russell interjected. "If you've been absorbing anything you've been taught, you would have already been checking out your fellow students, making assumptions, noting details. Once the assignments have been handed in, my colleagues and I will be the judge of how thorough you've been, and how successful. Okay?"

Blair nodded. "Okay." He fingered the envelope in his hand, his gaze running along the row of people, pausing on Melanie Harris, the pretty blonde sitting a few seats away. He raised his hand again. "Will our profiles remain anonymous?" he asked.

"Yes, they will. The only thing you'll learn is your grades. All right, people, that's it for today. Remember, tomorrow we have a gym session, so dress in sweats or something like that."

Blair sat on the bed and vacillated between heading straight for a shower or opening the intriguing envelope inside his backpack. He'd discovered an interesting-looking Thai restaurant on his way into the PD the day before that had been highly recommended by Scott Thornton, one of the detectives on the profiling course who lived in Seattle. Blair had become friendly with several of the profiling group now and they'd all arranged to meet there for dinner at seven. He had to admit he was beginning to really enjoy himself. Even Dean Collins' sour looks couldn't dampen his enthusiasm at once more having his nose in a book and taking notes. It was a familiar, much-missed routine, and he was reveling in it. Several of the group had noted that their own opinions of Collins were less than complimentary and Blair felt a pleasant camaraderie building within the group that he'd thought he'd never be a part of. It felt good to be part of the team and he couldn't wait to phone Jim and tell him that this had been the right decision to make.

He missed his partner terribly, wishing Jim could have been here too, to share the course and the friendships he was building. He missed the feel of Jim's warm, big body next to his. Especially missed making love to Jim, whether it was an urgent, passionate joining or a slow sensual wakeup call. He missed sitting at Jim's side in the truck, watching his back…

Of course that thought dredged up concern for Megan, though Jim had assured him she was doing well. Blair knew Jim was blaming himself for Megan's shooting, would once again be cursing the senses that sometimes seem to be more of a burden than a gift. Despite the guidance he gave Jim, despite the fact they now shared a life, both on and off duty, Blair knew it was still difficult for Jim to accept that there were times he needed to rely on others, most notably his guide, in order to control his senses. He wanted to be there for Jim now, to reassure him that he'd done nothing wrong. And he had to admit he felt more than a little guilt himself at deciding to undertake this course, instead of doing what he'd come to accept as his most important role in life - that of Jim's guide.

Blair gave in to the tickling cough that had never completely gone away since their ordeal in the mountains. Getting up, he pulled a bottle of water from the small bar fridge and took a few swallows. Glancing at the bedside clock and realizing he had plenty of time before he had to meet his friends, Blair pulled the small envelope from his backpack, grabbed a notepad and pen and settled himself on the bed. This should be fun. He ripped open the envelope and pulled out the sheet of paper.

Shit! He frowned as he read the name printed there. Dean Collins. So much for fun. He put the paper to one side and thought for a moment, absently doodling on the notepad in his lap. Not fun, exactly, but it should certainly prove interesting. Collins' habitual scowl and seemingly permanent bad temper, not to mention his obvious dislike of Blair from the moment he'd laid eyes on him, had to stem from something. This was something he could get his teeth into. Something he knew he was good at - observing and studying people and their interactions with those around them and their surroundings. With a small smile on his face, knowing he was being somewhat childish, Blair printed carefully on the paper - I don't like you!

Yeah, well, I don't like you either, punk and you're gonna pay for that comment.

Blair gasped, startled. Where the hell had that thought come from? Only it wasn't a thought, he realized. It was as though he had heard the words being spoken. The voice had been clear, menacing and deep, unmistakably male. Blair stared down at the notepad. The entire page was covered with scribbles, though there seemed to be more coherency to them than just the abstract jotting of a mind caught up in absent thought. Lines intersected lines, small circles swirled out in a growing circumference, bisected in one instance by a series of dots.

He adjusted his glasses on his nose and studied the paper more carefully. It looked familiar somehow, though he couldn't seem to put a finger on where he'd seen it before. The phone rang and startled him from his bewildered musings. Putting the paper aside, he picked it up and answered, expecting it to be Jim.

"Hey, Sandburg. It's Scott. We're waiting downstairs. You coming to dinner or not?"

Surprised, Blair looked at the clock and blinked. He'd been sitting here, doodling and daydreaming for close to half an hour. "Uh, yeah, Scott. Look, I got caught up with some stuff. I shouldn't be more than fifteen minutes."

"I don't think Eddie's gonna last that long," Scott chuckled, referring to the heavyset detective from Snohomish whose appetite rivaled that of Joel Taggert. "Tell you what, you know how to get to the restaurant, don't you?"

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure I know how to get there," Blair said. Blair stood and tucked the receiver beneath his chin and started unbuttoning his shirt.

"Right on Tenth and take the second on the left," Scott said anyway. "We'll meet you there. Eddie can get started on the hors d'oeuvres." He laughed, as a deep voice that Blair recognized as the jovial Eddie's suggested Scott do something rude and physically impossible.

"No problem," Blair replied, his earlier concerns evaporating. "Just tell Eddie to leave something for me."

"You tell him," Scott laughed. "Melanie's coming," he whispered theatrically.

Blair grinned. The young detective was extremely attractive and, in another life, she and Blair might have been able to get something happening. He'd have to let her down gently. While his and Jim's relationship had to remain secret to all but a chosen few, he could still let Melanie know that he was off the market. Scott had confided to Blair just the other day that he was attracted to Melanie himself. Maybe Blair could indulge in a little matchmaking on the side. "I'll see you there."

He hung up the phone and headed for the shower. The intriguing doodling and the voice he was sure he had heard bothered him though. What the heck was wrong with him? It had to be stress, he decided. So much had gone on during the past few months, he was surprised sometimes not to find himself strapped into a straitjacket. Still musing over the worrisome thoughts, he showered and dressed, then headed downstairs.

Blair was disappointed that Perry Davis had declined the dinner invitation, though he was more than a little relieved to see that Dean Collins wasn't there either. He was pretty certain the sullen detective's dislike of him stemmed from the fact that he assumed, like some in the Cascade PD, that Blair had gotten an easy entrance into the force and the rank of detective without having to earn his passage. It was something he'd endured since he'd first started riding along with Jim but had never gotten used to. He understood, of course, that the true nature of his ride-along with Jim could never be revealed, but it didn't stop it rankling when every other cop assumed he was just some longhaired hippie wannabe playing cops and robbers. He also had to admit that, knowing Collins was his subject, he wouldn't be able to stop himself from covertly studying the man over dinner.

Scott Thornton leaned forward toward Blair as he finished off his soup. "So, Blair," he said, "you gonna tell us who you got?"

"Got?" Blair was momentarily confused then realized to what Scott was referring. "We're not allowed to tell, remember?" he replied.

"Oh, come on, Blair," Melanie wheedled, shifting a little closer to Blair. "It'll be more fun knowing."

Blair shook his head. "Look, guys, this is a serious part of the course. For some of us, it's our first real practice at profiling and it won't work properly if everyone else knows who you're observing. That way, you could get unintended information on your subject or they'll act differently to try and put you off. It's better we don't know."

"You gonna lecture us all night, Professor," Eddie said, giving Blair a hearty slap on the back that almost sent him face-first into his dinner plate, "or are we gonna order dessert?"

Blair leaned back in his chair and patted his stomach. "No dessert for me, I'm full."

Melanie stared at him. "You coming down with something? All you had was a bowl of soup. We had a stomach flu going around the PD the week before I left."

Blair rolled his eyes. He wondered if Jim had set up a couple of spies to make sure he stuck to the rules. He wouldn't have put it past him. "Just trying to stay in shape," he told her. "With all this sitting around in a classroom all day, my jeans are already feeling tight." He nudged Eddie. "You can have my share, man."

Eddie's delighted grin indicated that the big cop thought that was a great idea.

It had been an extremely pleasant laid-back evening but, regardless, Blair was tired by the time he got back to the hotel. Looking at his watch, he realized it was still early enough to put a quick call into Jim before he hit the sack. Dialing the familiar number, he waited until Jim answered then said in his sexiest voice, "I'm sitting here in my socks."

There was an audible swallow on the other end of the line, then Jim mock-growled, "Sandburg, do you mind? How am I supposed to sleep with that image in my head?"

Blair chuckled. "Sorry, Jim, couldn't resist. How are you, man? How's Megan doing?"

"I'm fine, Chief, a little tired. Connor's doing great. The doctor says she'll be out of the hospital in a few days."

"That's good news," Blair replied enthusiastically.

"How about you?" Jim asked. "Seattle treating you okay?"

"Yeah, pretty good. I just got back from having dinner with a few guys from the course. They're a great bunch of guys…" He waited a beat, "…and girls."

"So you already told me. You have of course told these girls that you're taken, haven't you?"

Blair settled back onto his pillows with a grin on his face. "Why would I want to do that, Jim?"

"Because every pretty girl you meet wants to take you home, Sandburg and I just want to make sure they know you're taken."

"Chill, Jim," Blair chuckled, unable to keep the joke going. "There is one particular lady detective who seems to have taken a shine to me but I let her know I was already spoken for - "

"You didn't mention - " Jim cut in.

"Do I look stupid?" Blair asked, not really offended, merely enjoying this familiar banter. "Of course I didn't. In fact I may just have played matchmaker of the year. The way Scott and Melanie were looking at each other by the end of the night, I wouldn't be surprised to get a wedding invitation in a few months."

"Well, then, that's okay," Jim conceded. "So, apart from the pretty detectives, everything's okay?"

Blair smiled at the note of concern in his lover's voice. "Yeah, you know. There's this one guy, Dean Collins. I swear the man gets up on the wrong side of bed every morning -"

"He giving you a hard time?" Jim interjected.

"Down, Jim," Blair ordered. "He's a pain in the neck but it's nothing I haven't dealt with before. It's just… the guy's so angry all the time. I don't know how his partner puts up with him."

"Is he from Seattle?"

Blair yawned. "Tacoma. They come from all over, man."

"Sounds like I should let you get some sleep, Chief." An echoing yawn came through the line. "I'm pretty wiped myself."

"Yeah, okay, I'm gonna crash. Simon's got you partnered with someone else, right?"

"Yes, Chief," Jim replied obediently. "Rafe's free right now. H has got court duty all week."

"Good, that's good. See you in a few days?"

"You bet. I love you, Blair."

"Ditto, Jim."

The rest of the week passed by in a blur for Blair. They'd finally been allowed to spend some time on the streets with the Seattle PD. While nothing truly exciting had gone down, Blair had enjoyed sitting back and studying the two uniformed cops he and Scott were riding with, taking mental notes about the disparities and similarities between the forces of Seattle and Cascade. He'd actually been a little surprised at the differences in some procedures, considering that both groups were part of the same society. He had to admit he was glad to discover that Seattle didn't seem to hold the same appeal for bad guys as Cascade did.

Thursday had been taken up with lectures on Forensic Anthropology and Blair relished every word, discovering that even some of the more stomach-churning crime scene photos didn't appear to upset him as much as they used to.

Friday had been boring, though; they were back to listening to Agent Russell discussing their responsibilities both to themselves and other members of their respective police forces on the job. Blair knew it was important stuff, remembering too many times when Jim had hauled his ass over the carpet for not doing as he'd been told and reminding him that his foolhardy headlong dashes into danger were just as likely to cause danger to others beside himself.

Blair took it to heart - heck, he'd pretty much been whacked over the head with this particular textbook a time or two - but he couldn't help stealing glances at his watch, almost counting the hours until he could leave and head home again.

"I am so glad Megan is okay, man," Blair said as he opened the front door. "She looks fine, a little pale maybe, but pretty good considering she's only been out of hospital a few days."

"Hey, me too, Chief," Jim replied as he took his own jacket off and grabbed Blair's from him, hanging them both on the hooks. "You want a drink or something to eat?"

"No, I'm not hungry. I was just going to wash up and go straight up to bed."

"You sure you're eating, Blair?" Jim put a hand up to stop the expected argument. "I know I promised I wouldn't nag you about it, babe, but you've lost weight and you hardly ate anything at Rafe and Megan's tonight."

"Jim, I'm just a little tired from driving back and forth, that's all. I swear I've been eating, man. Turn off the radar, okay?" Blair stepped forward and pulled Jim's head down, placing a kiss on Jim's mouth. "I love it that you care about me so much, man, but give me some credit. I told you I'd eat and I have been. I've been working out in the gym down there too. It's only natural I'd lose some weight."

"Okay, no more Blessed Protector tonight, Chief." Jim leaned forward and captured Blair's lips again. "You're gonna eat a good breakfast tomorrow, though. Deal?"

"Deal," Blair agreed with a smile. "I'm going to go to bed. You coming?"

"Right behind you, Chief. Just let me lock up," Jim said.

Jim pulled back the blankets and climbed into the bed. He reached forward and snagged Blair around the waist, pulling his lover close against his body.

Blair undulated against him, pressing his body more firmly against Jim's. "Hey," he whispered.

"Hey," Jim whispered back. He bent his head forward and nuzzled at the soft nape of Blair's neck then spidered one hand around to find and tease a nipple to hardness.

"Mmm, nice," Blair muttered, pushing his ass back to grind against his lover's hard erection.

"Very nice," Jim murmured, pushing his hips forward.

He fumbled under the pillow and grinned to himself as he came up with a tube of lube. Slicking his fingers, he began a slow teasing crawl of his hand down Blair's spine until he reached his cleft. "This okay, babe?" he asked softly. He tongued the shell of Blair's ear.

"It's great, Jim. Don't stop."

Blair bent his upper leg, allowing Jim unfettered access and moaned as Jim's long fingers crept across his hole.

Jim circled the puckered opening a few times before pressing one finger inside and beginning a slow sensual massage.

As Blair began to push back against his hand he added another finger, continuing the slow caress. He wanted to prolong this, to make it as good for Blair as it could possibly be. He kissed Blair's shoulder as he continued to prepare him, his own cock aching almost painfully for completion.

He pulled his fingers free of Blair's body and slicked them again, using them to lubricate the length of his cock. Then he pushed forward, the blunt head of his penis breaching Blair's opening. He felt it stretch around him and groaned with the sheer pleasure of it. Pulling back until only the head was inside, he began a long slow thrust back and forth, his breath seeping out in small exhalations between his lips. As his need grew, he sped his pace, pumping faster and harder into Blair's ass.

He could feel his climax building, the slow burn in his belly warning him of its imminence. Snaking one hand around Blair's waist, his hips continuing their frenzied thrusting, he grasped Blair's cock in his hand…

And froze.

Then his orgasm rushed upon him like a freight train and he thrust again and bit gently down on Blair's shoulder as he came, feeling Blair's penis lying soft and quiescent in his hand.

Jim pulled out of Blair's body carefully and rolled to his back, one hand coming up to cover his eyes. "Jesus, Blair, why didn't you just tell me you weren't in the mood?"

Blair turned over and blanketed himself against Jim's side, pressing a sweet kiss over Jim's heart. "I was in the mood, Jim. I'm just tired, that's all. Just because I didn't come doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it."

"God, I'm sorry, Blair," Jim whispered, his arms coming down and enclosing Blair in a warm embrace. "You told me you were tired. I should have -"

"Ssh." Blair's fingers crept up and covered Jim's lips. "You didn't do anything I didn't want you to do. It was nice, Jim. And there something even better we can do in this bed tonight."

"Yeah? What's that, Einstein?" Jim asked, kissing the top of Blair's head.

"Snuggle," Blair replied as he suited actions to words, insinuating himself against Jim's side, his head coming to rest on the Sentinel's broad chest. "You do snuggling, don't you?"

"Oh, yeah, Chief, when you're in my arms, I do great snuggling," Jim said softly, the worry that had been beating at him moments before quieted for now. He rubbed a hand down the slope of Blair's back, momentarily wondering if Blair's bones had felt this prominent before.

"Good," Blair said, interrupting his train of thought. "I'm sleepy. Do you do sleep too?"

"Yeah, as long as you're here, Chief, I can do that too." Jim closed his eyes, the slow motion of his hand on Blair's back faltering as they both surrendered to sleep.

Monday was supposed to have been another day away from lectures and classrooms. The group had assembled in the gymnasium for some training in hand to hand combat, how to control a violent or possibly deranged person and also to let off some much needed steam after being cooped up in a lecture room most of the time for close to two weeks, and Blair had to admit he was relieved at not having the time to think over what had happened when he'd been home on the weekend. It happened to all guys at some time or other, he'd argued to himself on the way back to Seattle. Nerves, stress, being overtired and perhaps being a little too turned on could easily explain his impotence that night. He'd been honest when he'd told Jim he'd enjoyed their love-making any way but deep down, when added to the other weird things that were happening with him, he was beginning to get seriously worried. He wasn't going to say anything to Jim though. The litany of symptoms Blair appeared to be experiencing would be more than enough for Jim to be ordering Blair home. Putting the worrying episodes out of his mind for now, Blair dressed in sweats and headed downstairs to drive to the PD.

When it came to his turn on the mat, Blair was already nervous. Jim had taught him a few moves after Ventriss' goons had beaten him up the year before, and he sometimes worked out with Jim at the police gymnasium. There had been self-defense classes at the Academy too, but Blair had no doubts about his lack of skills as a fighter, especially when he was paired up with Dean Collins. It made sense, he supposed, since their builds were somewhat similar, but the glare Collins threw him left Blair convinced that Collins was as happy about the pairing as he was. Perry had even stepped in and offered to work with Blair, but Agent Russell had pointed out their difference in sizes and overridden the suggestion.

Blair stood and faced Collins on the mat. The two circled each other warily for a few moments, then Collins lunged. It was easy enough for Blair to duck out of the other man's way. He was lighter than Collins and quicker on his feet. Buoyed by his success, he feinted to the left and came at Collins from the right. The move took Collins offguard and he stumbled, putting himself within Blair's reach. Blair grabbed Collins' nearest arm and pushed it behind his back, hoping to be able to get the other man on the ground, but Collins used his weight to pull them both forward, then twisted sideways. Before Blair knew what was happening, Collins had their positions reversed. Blair attempted the same maneuver to get the upper hand but, before he could twist away, Collins' hand fisted Blair's ponytail and his head was pulled back so far, he was sure his neck would snap.

"Stop, please! You're hurting me!"

Blair only had time to register that the voice he'd heard in his head was unmistakably female before his feet were swept from beneath him and he hit the mat hard, gasping for breath as the wind was driven from his lungs. Russell called a halt to the proceedings at that point and Blair was vaguely aware of someone asking him if he was okay, and of hands grasping his and pulling him into a sitting position. He stayed there a moment, catching his breath and willing the trembling away before staggering to his feet.

"Geez, sorry, Sandburg," Collins drawled, but there was no genuine apology on his face, "you're lighter than you look."

Blair shook his head, then wished he hadn't as a headache flared to life and his vision grayed out briefly. He tightened his grip on Perry's arm until he felt steadier. "No biggie," he said.

Agent Russell trotted over and gave Blair a considering stare. "You sure you're all right?" he asked. "Need a doctor?"

"No, I'm fine," Blair assured him.

"Okay, why don't you sit the rest of the session out?" the agent suggested.

"I'm fine," Blair insisted, though he really wanted to sit down. Lying down was sounding even more attractive right now.

Russell shook his head. "No arguments. You're as white as sheet, Sandburg." He pointed to the benches lining one wall of the gym. "Go, sit."

"Yes, sir." Blair walked over to the seats, taking it slowly as the headache built to a crescendo, making him feel slightly nauseated. He sat and rested his head in his hands, catching a fleeting smirk on Collins' face before the other cop strode off to join the others.

Now he was lying on his bed in his darkened hotel room, resting fitfully in the vague hope of staving off the headache that was threatening to erupt into a full-blown migraine, if the bursts of white light that were blooming behind his tightly closed eyelids were any indication. Blair sighed and tried to shift his weight off his bruised back. Yesterday he'd been so confident that things were looking up, and now Dean Collins had once again made him feel like an idiot.

He turned to his side, wincing, and made a conscious effort to relax his eyelids, deliberately slowing and deepening his breathing. He finally managed to reach a light meditative state with some difficulty, but once he reached the plateau he sought, he sent his mind winging outwards, toward home, toward Jim. The connection between them almost tangible now, he drifted off to sleep.

Jim had a deep sense of unease that assailed him every time he thought of Blair. His lover had sounded relaxed enough when they'd spoken on the phone, but Jim just couldn't seem to rid himself of the feeling that things in Seattle might not be going as smoothly as Blair said they were. There was nothing concrete he could put his finger on and he wondered if it was just his overprotectiveness surging to the fore or, as Simon had said, his own insecurity at having Blair away from him. Not knowing the reason for it didn't help, and Jim found himself becoming more and more jittery as the day went on. He snapped at everyone, even reducing Rhonda, Simon's formidable secretary, almost to tears at one point. Finally, he decided to give the bullpen a well-deserved break from his uncertain temper and took himself off to visit Connor at the apartment she now shared with Rafe.

He stopped just outside the door, hearing voices within, not wanting to intrude. About to leave and come back later, he stopped as the door opened and Rafe came out.

"Hey, Jim, you here to see Megan? Go on in. I was just leaving." Rafe smiled as he gestured towards the elevator.

"Thanks," Jim replied. "You okay with working with me till Sandburg gets back?' he asked hesitantly.

Rafe frowned. "Sure, man. Brown's tied up and after what you did to Megs, there's no way you're safe on the street on your own -" Rafe stopped suddenly, his cheeks blushing crimson. "Oh, shit, Jim, I didn't mean that the way it came out. I know it wasn't your fault Megan got hurt. She knows that, too. Jim, buddy, I'm sorry."

Jim smiled, feeling a little embarrassed himself. He wouldn't really have blamed Rafe if the guy had thumped him one on the jaw for putting Connor in front of that bullet. "It's okay, Rafe. I deserve at least that."

Rafe shook his head firmly. "No way, Jim. None of what happened was your fault. If anyone's to blame, it's the asshole who pulled the trigger, not you. Megs won't be happy if she hears you're blaming yourself, and take it from someone who knows, a pissed off Megan is not a happy sight, if you know what I mean."

Jim laughed, his mind flashing back to the first few times he'd worked with Megan Connor, fresh from Australia, all sparks and fire, the chip on her shoulder only matched by the size of her determination to get the job done. "She's a good cop, Rafe, and a nice lady. You're a lucky guy."

"Yeah, I know," Rafe agreed, smiling back. "So why don't you get on in there and tell her that yourself. She feels pretty bad about what happened too, Jim. Oh, my sister's in there, too. Tell the kid to come downstairs and meet me in the lobby. I'll buy the brat some lunch."

Jim nodded. "Why don't I meet you downstairs in a half hour or so. We can talk over what cases we've got pending before going back to the station. I really need to get back to work, Rafe. I'm going stir crazy, especially with Blair being away."

"Sure thing. I'll see you soon. You can catch me up on how Sandburg's doing in the big smoke," Rafe said as he walked towards the elevator. He threw a grin over his shoulder. "Big smoke - big city, Jim. Megs has been teaching me Australian. Says she'll be embarrassed to take me downunder if I don't learn to speak properly."

Jim laughed at that, recalling a couple of instances where Connor had stymied him with her colorful turns of phrase. Then he knocked on the door. Hearing an unfamiliar voice telling him to enter, he walked into the apartment.

Jim blinked in surprise as he entered. "Connor," he said, "you're looking…" Frilly, was the word that came to mind but one look at Megan's raised eyebrow had him mentally reconsidering his vocabulary. "Better," he finally said. "Much better than the last time I saw you."

Megan's cheeks reddened as she pulled the powder-blue lacy negligee more closely around her shoulders, wincing a little as she did so. "Um… Brian bought it for me," she said.

Jim nodded. "It suits you," he replied, not sure whether he meant the negligee or the new softness in Connor's eyes. "How are you feeling?"

"Any fitter and I'd be dangerous," Megan quipped.

"Good." Jim cleared his throat then jumped as he felt a hand touch his shoulder.

"Well, if Megan isn't going to introduce us, I guess I'll have to introduce myself. I'm Trina."

Jim smiled down at the pretty girl standing next to him. "Oh, of course, Rafe's sister. Hi, nice to meet you."

Trina grinned, reminding Jim inexorably of her brother. "I'm very glad to meet you, Jim."

"Settle down, Trina. Jim's way too old for you and he's taken," Megan cut in, winking at Jim.

Trina pouted. "Can't blame a girl for trying," she said.

"Your brother said for you to meet him downstairs and he'd buy you lunch before he went to work," Jim said, smiling at her.

"Oh, okay. I'd kill for a burger. See ya, sis." Trina leaned over the sofa and planted a quick kiss on Megan's cheek.

"See ya, kiddo. I'll see you when you get home," Megan replied fondly.

"Aye-aye, sir." Trina giggled as she snapped a salute at Connor then turned and graced Jim with a slightly Lolita-like smile. "Bye, Jim," she drawled on her way through the doorway.

The minute she was gone, both Jim and Megan burst out laughing.

"Oh God," Megan gasped after a minute, clutching her injured shoulder. "I swear that kid's gonna be the death of me."

"Wow," Jim rejoined, sitting down in the nearest armchair. "Momma Megan! Who'd've thunk?"

"Knock it off, Ellison," Megan warned, her eyes still glinting with tears of laughter. "How's Sandy?" she asked, suddenly serious.

"I spoke to him last night. He's fine, enjoying the course," Jim replied.

"And you? How are you doing without him?" Megan asked, her eyes shrewd.

Jim flushed. "I'm doing okay. Look, Connor, I'm sorry about freezing up at the warehouse. I thought I had this senses thing down pat but every now and then they still manage to throw me a curve ball."

Megan smiled. "Forget it, Jim. It must be difficult with Sandy away. He's your guide. Maybe it's easier for you to control your senses with him around."

Jim smiled back at her. "That's exactly the way it works between us, Connor. You know, you're smarter than I've given you credit for in the past. So, I've only got one thing to ask you… What the heck are you doing hooking up with Rafe?" He grinned broadly as Megan laughed with him.

"Hey, someone has to keep an eye on him," Megan said. She looked down, fiddling with the blanket covering her legs. "I love him," she said softly. "He's very important to me."

"I know how you feel," Jim replied gravely then quirked another smile. "I mean, I feel the same way about Blair."

"I know you do, Jim. I knew from the first time I met you two that you belonged together."

"Just like you knew about the Sentinel stuff before anyone else at the PD, except for Simon, did," Jim said. "How do you do that, Connor? What is it, some sort of Aussie voodoo or something?"

Megan gave him an amused look and shook her head. "Just plain woman's intuition, Ellison."

Jim glanced at his watch. "I gotta go. I told Rafe I'd meet him downstairs. Connor, look, thanks for not being pissed off about…" Jim waved his hand toward the bandaged shoulder. "Well, you know… anyway, thanks." He stood up, then bent forward, surprising himself, and kissed Connor's cheek. "You take care, okay?"

Megan nodded. "I will. You take care of Brian for me. I swear that man's an accident looking for somewhere to happen sometimes."

Jim winked down at her. "Look who's talking," he shot back as he spun on his heel and headed out the door.

Photo Manip by Amy

Blair knew he couldn't put the assignment off any longer. The profile was due to be handed in this week. The problem was, the more time he spent with Dean Collins, the harder it was to find anything positive to say about the man. It wasn't just his snide asides whenever he was certain Blair would hear, the small, almost accidental shoves and trip-ups, or even the aggression he'd shown in the gym. Everything about Collins screamed 'nasty', and Blair wasn't sure what to do about it.

Sighing, he sat down on his bed and stared longingly at the phone. No, he told himself sternly, no distractions. He glanced down at the notepad beside him. So far he'd only managed a few brief notes, none of them positive: aggressive, quick to anger, prejudicial, egotistical, narcissistic… sociopathic. Grabbing his pen, he drew a line through the last. That might be going too far. Pushing his glasses back up his nose, he turned to his laptop and powered it up.

A moment later, or so it seemed to Blair, he blinked and sat back. On the screen before him were two pages of typing, the sentences concise and detailed. Problem was, he didn't actually remember writing them. He looked at his watch. Half an hour. Again, he seemed to have lost time, absorbed in the task. The headache that had never completely gone since Collins had thrown him to the mat in the gym was back full force, and Blair wondered again if there was something physically wrong with him. He dismissed the notion quickly. Aside from the tiredness that seemed a permanent part of him these days and the headaches, and the time at home when he'd been too tired or wired or whatever to get it up, he felt… fine. Okay, he amended, not totally fine, but he doubted he was going to keel over anytime soon.

Getting back to his assignment, he read through what he'd written and nodded in satisfaction. Not bad for a first time, he thought, but not too professional-sounding either. He didn't want Agent Russell thinking he was showing off. He'd dabbled in profiling since he'd been working with Jim. Often his observations, honed by years of studying cultures and the people within, gave good insight and fresh ideas to the crimes they investigated. The David Lash investigation was a case in point.

Saving his work and making a mental note to print it out at the PD the following morning, Blair sat back and closed his eyes. There were only one and a half weeks to go and he'd be back in Cascade, back with Jim, this time with his own career. It was a good feeling.

Photo Manip by Lisa Adolf

Ann Rule, the ex-cop turned true crime author, smiled at Blair. "That's a good question, Detective Sandburg. Yes, I think you could say that Ted Bundy was the ultimate… chameleon. He really did seem to have two separate personalities." She held up a hand. "Now I'm not saying he was schizophrenic, only that he was able to use his charm in order to convince his victims that he was no threat, just a good-looking, sweet-natured boy-next-door type."

"Do you consider yourself a victim too?" Blair asked and ignored the groan that came from Collins, who was seated next to him.

"What a stupid question," Collins whispered.

Blair rushed on. "I mean, the fact that you had no idea that this man you'd come to know, who'd become a friend, was one of the worst serial killers in history."

Ann nodded, looking thoughtful. "That's a good way to put it." She smiled again. "Very insightful. You'll do well."

Blair felt a painful tug on his ponytail. "Oooh, I think she likes you… Blair," Collins said.

His patience spent, Blair turned and glared at his nemesis. "Grow up… Dean. Some of us are actually getting something useful out of this." He turned back before Collins had a chance to reply.

Agent Russell stood and shook Ann's hand. "Thanks again, Ann, for coming in. It's always good to have you here." He turned to the class. "All right, if there are no further questions, it's time to hand in those assignments." He waved away the collective groan from the detectives. "Yeah, yeah, I've heard all the excuses, so don't even bother."

Blair stood and handed his paper in quickly then hurried out the door. He'd found Ann Rule's talk incredibly interesting and hoped she'd have a few minutes to spare to talk with him further. "Ms. Rule…"

The author stopped and smiled at him. "More questions, Detective? You are an inquisitive one, aren't you?"

Blair grinned. "That's what my partner says too. Do you have time for a coffee, maybe?"

Ann looked at her watch then nodded. "I've never said no to coffee with a handsome young man."

"Great! I know of this nice little cafe just a couple of blocks away."

Photo Manip by Lisa Adolf

"I mean it, Dean, leave Blair alone!"

Blair stopped in the doorway to the lecture room, embarrassed that he'd walked in on an obviously private, intense moment between Perry and Dean but, before he could quietly leave, both men turned to glare at him. He raised a hand and waved. "Hey, guys. You should have come for coffee with Ann and me. She's an amazing lady -"

"Like I want to be seen around town with you, Sandburg," Collins groused.

"Gentlemen." Agent Russell walked into the room and smiled at the three men, seemingly unaware of the tension in the air.

Blair closed his mouth before he told Collins once and for all what he thought of him.

"Dean?" Russell went on. "Can I have a word with you in my office?"

Collins shrugged. "Sure, why not?" He followed Russell out of the room, shooting a venomous glance at Blair as he pushed past him.

Perry gave Blair an apologetic smile. "Sorry, Blair. I don't know what's got into Dean the past couple of weeks. I mean, I know he wasn't too happy about doing this course and he can be an asshole at the best of times, but I have no idea why he's singled you out."

Blair waved away the apology. "Not your fault, Perry. Look," he took a few steps into the room, "I appreciate what you said to Dean, but I can handle him, man. I don't want you guys pissed with each other because of me. You've got to go home and ride with the guy, after all."

Perry shook his head. "I'm not going to let him get away with harassing you - "

"Hey," Blair grinned, "you think that's harassment? First day I met my partner, he threw me up against a wall and called me a neo-hippie witchdoctor punk!" He sobered. "It's fine, Perry, really. I have to admit the guy bothers me but I can handle it." He touched Perry's arm. "I appreciate you looking out for me."

Agent Russell led Dean into the office he'd appropriated for the duration of the course. He waited while the FBI agent set the assignment sheets down on his desk and then sat down, gesturing for Dean to do the same. "I wanted to talk to you about your attitude since you've been here - "

If this was about tackling that fag in the gym… Collins sat forward, his body tense. "If this is about the other day, Sandburg - "

Russell held up a hand. "That's a part of it. Look, nobody says you have to like everyone here but I'm beginning to wonder if you're cut out for this job. A profiler needs to be objective and frankly, your treatment of Sandburg borders on harassment."

Collins scowled. "If he can't stand the heat - "

"You're brothers in arms," Russell interjected. "You're both on the same side. Now you back off or I'll reconsider your participation in the course."

Fuming, Collins stood and glowered at the other man. "I didn't want to do this course in the first place," he said angrily. "I was more than happy working my way up to Captain. I'm assuming you know my arrest rate -"

"Is second to none in Tacoma," Russell finished for him. "I'm aware of that, yes. There's a week to go with this course. I'm going to give you until tomorrow to think over your options. If you don't want to be here, let me know. Got it?"


Russell nodded. "Good, and - " He was interrupted by a buzz from his desk phone. "Yes?"

"There's a Special Agent Cortez here to see you, sir," the desk sergeant said.

"Oh, right. I'll just be a minute." Russell stood and gathered up a folder from the desk. "That's all, Dean."

"Yes, sir." Dean glanced down at the assignments on the desk. Sandburg's was on the top, his name typed neatly on the front page. He followed Russell out into the corridor and watched him hurry away. As soon as he turned the corner, Collins made his way back inside the office. It didn't take him long to scan Sandburg's assignment and by the time he was finished, rage blossomed so hotly he could scarcely breathe. The little shit! Fucking little faggot jerk!

"Jim! How are you, man? How's Megan? Is everything okay up there?"

"Whoa, slow down, Sandburg, you're gonna give yourself a coronary."

Blair could almost hear the smile in Jim's voice. "Sorry, it's just good to hear your voice. I really miss you."

"Ditto, Chief."

Blair took a slow breath and composed himself. The last thing he wanted was Jim worrying over what he was about to say. "Look, Jim, I know I said I'd be back this weekend but I have these assignments to do and Agent Russell is breathing down our necks over getting them finished and - "

"You're not coming home?"

Blair could definitely detect the disappointment in Jim's voice and felt immediate regret. "I'm sorry. I just really need to get this done and I figure, it's only one more week before I'll be home for good…" He trailed off, unable to explain further.

"This isn't because of last weekend, is it?" Jim asked. "It's not a big deal, Chief. You're tired, stressed over this course. I probably pushed when I should have just let you sleep…"

"Don't be silly," Blair replied, mentally crossing his fingers to protect the lie. "I know that. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy it, trust me. I was just more tired than I realized. I'm not gonna lose sleep over not being able to get it up once." He winced at his choice of words. "I mean, I felt bad for you, that's all."

"Don't be. Are you sure you don't want to come home? I mean you've got all next week to get your assignments done and knowing you like I do, I'd bet they're all finished, bar the signing off anyway."

"I wish." Blair willed away his desire to be with Jim, to cuddle up close in that big bed and tell his lover just what a bad week it had really been. "I'm sorry. You don't mind, do you?"

"I mind," Jim said, "but I understand. I love you. Get some sleep and I'll see you next week."

"I love you too." Blair swallowed. "'Bye, Jim." He hung up the phone and threw himself onto the bed, totally depressed, but relieved that he wouldn't have to humiliate himself again this weekend. He'd tried to convince himself that it had just been a one-time thing. That he was, as Jim had said, tired and stressed out. Regardless of the reasons, it didn't change the fact that, despite all the loving attention Jim had given him, he hadn't been able to get an erection and he didn't think he could go through that kind of embarrassment again.

Jim looked up as Captain Banks came out of his office and walked across to his desk.

"Jim, grab Rafe and head over to 16-20 Macy. An assault on a female was just called in from that address."

"What, the uniforms can't handle it?" Jim asked.

"The victim was asking for Sandburg," Banks replied tersely.

"Okay. Did they mention a name?" Jim rose to his feet and called to Rafe.

"She said she wouldn't speak to anyone about anything until either you or Sandburg got there. She's refusing to go to the hospital and the paramedics said her injuries are pretty bad," Banks explained.

"We're on it, sir." Jim grabbed his jacket off the stand behind him and collected Rafe on his way through the door, explaining the situation as he went.

"Detective Ellison?"

Jim quickly climbed out of the truck and hurried over to the gurney on the sidewalk outside the apartment building they'd been called to. Looking down at the woman on the stretcher, he felt a pang of anguish. "Jenny?" he asked, reaching out with one hand to halt the stretcher's progress. "God, what the hell happened?"

The woman struggled to speak past lips that were badly lacerated, wet with blood. Both her eyes were blackened, one swollen almost shut. There was a ring of fingertip bruises around her pale throat, larger ones almost meeting over her larynx. Thumb marks, Jim realized. "My pimp, Frank. I couldn't work tonight. I was sick. I think I'm pregnant." She rubbed shaking thin fingers over her belly. "I'd really like to talk to Blair…" Tears welled up, blackening her bruised face even further with mascara.

"Blair's not here, Jenny. He's in Seattle. Look, you go to the hospital and let them take care of you and I'll let Blair know what happened. He'll come by and see how you're doing as soon as he gets back, okay?" Jim said, taking one small hand in his. "Frank still working out of the same place?"

"I can't have him charged," Jenny said, pushing herself up even as her face contorted with the pain of it.

"Hey…" Jim shifted his hands to her shoulders and pressed her back against the pillow. "We'll talk about that later. Let me deal with Frank for now."

"Could you tell Blair I'm sorry?" Jenny said. "I tried to stay off the street but I needed the money for somewhere to live…"

"Blair will understand, Jenny. You just get well." Jim nodded to the paramedics and let them move the gurney on then turned to find Rafe standing right behind him.

"Who's that?" the younger detective asked.

"One of Sandburg's lost lambs," Jim replied cryptically. "Let's go. I need to go see a man about a hooker."

Jim barely waited for the truck to pull to a stop before he was out, his feet hitting the sidewalk and moving into a fast run as Rafe tried his best to keep up with him.

They'd barely spoken on the way over, Jim sitting tensely behind the wheel, his jaw twitching ominously in a way that Rafe was only too familiar with. The tic promised bad news for anyone who got in Ellison's way and Rafe suggested calling for backup, only to have his suggestion brushed away brusquely by the senior detective.

Rafe managed to catch up with Jim at the entrance to a seedy-looking establishment fronted by grimy windows and the biggest bouncer Rafe had ever seen in his life. The guy looked like Andre the Giant but he meekly moved aside as Ellison flashed his ID at him and waved Rafe through behind him.

Barely two feet inside, Ellison's head went up and Rafe saw his gaze lock on a man sitting at a table near the bar. "Oh, shit," Rafe muttered, as he watched Ellison go into what could only be called 'primal mode' and head for the guy at a run. He reached out with a despairing hand to haul his temporary partner back but his fingers barely brushed against the back of Jim's shirt. By the time Rafe had made it across the room, Ellison had the man in a necklock across the table, drinks and food scattering across the tabletop, onto the floor and into the laps of two women seated at the adjoining table.

"Ellison! Stand down!" Rafe shouted, trying to make himself heard above the two women screaming. They'd backed away from Ellison and his prey and stood cowering against the bar, their voices raised in caterwauling stridency.

Jim hauled the pimp around by one shoulder and pulled him upright. He brought a fist back and then swung forward, connecting solidly with the man's belly, causing him to double over and whoop for breath. As Jim went to swing again, Rafe grabbed his arm and managed to hold on.

Jim froze momentarily, then turned to Rafe and glared at him with glacial eyes. "Let go," he said, his voice low and without expression.

Rafe shook his head. "You can't do this, Jim. You want to arrest the bastard, fine. We'll do that. But I'm not letting you wreck your career over some two-bit scum who beats women up for fun. Let - him - go." Rafe matched his tone to Jim's and the two cops stood toe to toe for a long moment, staring each other down.

Finally, Jim broke. Shaking his head, he pulled his arm free of Rafe's restraining grip then leaned into the pimp's personal space. "This isn't over, Mazzoli. Someone's gonna be watching you night and day. You even think about touching another woman and I'll have you in Starkville so deep, they'll have to pipe air in to you. You got that?"

Mazzoli nodded, his face white, his breath still coming in puffing gasps.

Jim spun on his heel and walked out of the bar, leaving Rafe once again trying to catch up to him.

At the truck, Jim simply climbed in, waited barely long enough for his temporary partner to buckle his seat belt then peeled out into the traffic, flipping his finger as horns blared around him.

"Shit, Jim, what the hell is wrong with you?" Rafe asked, still feeling stunned.

Jim didn't turn to look at him, keeping his attention firmly fixed on the road ahead. When he spoke, his voice was gravelly. "Did you see what that creep did to that girl, Rafe? She's fucking pregnant, probably not for long considering the shape she's in…"

"Jim, the guy's a dog, no doubt about that. But, you assaulting him isn't going to help the girl's case against him."

Jim shrugged. "She won't press charges anyway. They never do. Soon as she's out of the hospital, she'll be back on the streets and giving the money to him."

"You said Blair knows her?" Rafe asked, pressing for more details.

"Yeah. She was a friend of Amber Larkin's, a callgirl Blair and I met when we were working the Iceman case."

Rafe nodded. He remembered hearing about that case. It had been before his time in Major Crime but he'd been impressed by hearing how Blair, a civilian at that time, had gone undercover in disguise and been shot by Klaus Zeller. Sandburg had been wearing a vest but still… It had to have been a frightening experience for the kid.

"Amber took Jenny under her wing and when she went back East to return to her family and go to medical school, she asked Blair to keep an eye out for Jenny. Sandburg convinced the girl to give up hooking and go to night school. She got her GED with Blair tutoring her and she started at college just before he left for Seattle. He was so damn proud of her…" Jim's voice trailed off. "Guess I'll have to tell him what happened to her. I'll wait till he gets back, though. Knowing Blair, he'll insist on leaving the course and coming straight home otherwise."

"Yeah, that'd be Blair, all right," Rafe agreed. "Jim, Mazzoli might put in a complaint against you…"

Jim shook his head. "I don't think so but I'm gonna ask Simon for some time off anyway. I just can't work right now."

"Is Blair okay?" Rafe asked.

"Says he is," Jim replied. "It's probably just me. I just feel on edge all the time; I have ever since he left. It's like waiting for the other shoe to drop, you know? You know what a trouble magnet Sandburg is."

He pulled into his spot in the parking garage and turned to face Rafe. "I'm sorry I lost it like that, Rafe. Thanks for… well, for not letting me make a complete ass of myself. Guess you'll need to find yourself a new partner again."

"You're welcome," Rafe replied, smiling. "H is back in a couple of days, anyway. I'll manage. You just get your head on straight, okay?"

"Yeah. I'll do that," Jim said, smiling back.

"You gonna go see Blair while you're off duty?" Rafe asked as he climbed down from his seat and walked around to join Jim next to the driver's door.

Jim grinned. "Yeah, I think I just might do that," he said, ushering Rafe ahead of him to the elevator.

Jim sat at his desk, finishing up a few stray reports that needed to be signed off on before he could go home and pack. His meeting with his Captain had gone remarkably easily; Banks simply agreeing that Jim needed to take some time off and get his head together. The Captain had been less than impressed with Jim's run-in with Frank Mazzoli, giving him a stern lecture, reminding him that Martin from IA would pounce on an infraction like this with glee. He'd deserved it, Jim knew. Simon ordered Jim to type a statement that they could file away, just in case Mazzoli decided he wanted to get his two pounds of flesh from the Cascade PD. Jim doubted the guy would bother. Mazzoli had been skating too close to the wire for months now. The pimp would just move his operation somewhere a little less likely to attract attention and go back to what he did best - using and abusing women.

Jim closed his Word program and sat for a moment, wondering if he should call Blair and tell him he was coming. Almost immediately, he decided against it. He smiled to himself as he pictured Blair opening the door to his hotel room and finding Jim propped up in the doorway.

Standing up, he looked over his desk to check he had everything he needed. His notebook still lay open on his desk and he picked it up, looking at the top sheet. Dean Collins. That was the name of the cop who'd been giving Blair a rough time in Seattle. Next to the name, Jim saw he'd written, Tacoma. Casting his mind back, he remembered planning on checking Collins out; his Blessed Protector radar had been in full operational mode that day. Blair had sounded antsy, though he'd insisted everything was under control. Jim had recalled hearing that Jack Phillips, an old buddy had transferred to Tacoma a year or so before and had thought about giving him a call, asking what he knew about Collins. But with all that had happened since then, Jim had forgotten about it. Now, obeying some inner voice that told him it was important he follow it through, he sat back down and put through a call to the Tacoma PD.

"Jim, how you doing, buddy?"

Ellison smiled, despite his worry, as he heard the familiar voice through the phone. "Good, Jack. How about you?"

"I'm fine. What's up?" Jack asked.

"You know a cop down there named Dean Collins?" Jim asked, striving to keep his voice casual.

There was a moment's pause before Jack answered. "Yeah, I know of him. I've never actually worked with the guy but I've seen him around. Why?"

"Probably nothing. Someone mentioned his name to me the other day and that he worked out of Tacoma and I remembered you'd transferred there. What do you know about him, Jack? What sort of rep does he have?"

"Look, Jim, like I said I don't know the guy that well, never worked with him, but the buzz around the break room is that he's not someone you'd want to get on the wrong side of. There's been talk of some of his arrests arriving at the PD in less than pristine condition, if you get my drift. His last partner quit the job after getting shot. Apparently, the injury wasn't bad enough to qualify him for disability, but the guy retired anyway. Collins has a new partner. They've only been together a couple months and they're both in Seattle doing a profiling course. I could get hold of his ex-partner, if it's important, I guess. Is it?" Jack asked.

"Could be," Jim replied slowly. "Do that, will you, Jack? I'm heading down to Seattle myself in an hour or so. Call me on my cell if you hear anything. And thanks, Jack. I'll buy you a beer next time I'm in Tacoma."

He gave the other detective his cell phone number, then hung up the phone. Swallowing down an inexplicable fear, he grabbed his jacket and ran for the elevator, wanting to get home to pack and be on the road to Seattle as soon as possible.